Most auroras occur in a band known as the auroral zone, which is typically 3° to 6° wide in latitude and between 10° and 20° from the geomagnetic poles at all local times (or longitudes), most clearly seen at night against a dark sky. A region that currently displays an aurora is called the auroral oval, a band displaced towards the nightside of the Earth. Day-to-day positions of the auroral ovals are posted on the internet. A geomagnetic storm causes the auroral ovals (north and south) to expand, and bring the aurora to lower latitudes. Early evidence for a geomagnetic connection comes from the statistics of auroral observations. Elias Loomis (1860), and later Hermann Fritz (1881) and S. Tromholt (1882)in more detail, established that the aurora appeared mainly in the “auroral zone”, a ring-shaped region with a radius of approximately 2500 km around the Earth’s magnetic pole. It was hardly ever seen near the geographic pole, which is about 2000 km away from the magnetic pole. The instantaneous distribution of auroras (“auroral oval”) is slightly different, being centered about 3–5 degrees nightward of the magnetic pole, so that auroral arcs reach furthest toward the equator when the magnetic pole in question is in between the observer and the Sun. The aurora can be seen best at this time, which is called magnetic midnight.
In northern latitudes, the effect is known as the aurora borealis (or the northern lights), named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Galileo in 1619. Auroras seen within the auroral oval may be directly overhead, but from farther away they illuminate the poleward horizon as a greenish glow, or sometimes a faint red, as if the Sun were rising from an unusual direction.
Its southern counterpart, the aurora australis (or the southern lights), has features that are almost identical to the aurora borealis and changes simultaneously with changes in the northern auroral zone. It is visible from high southern latitudes in Antarctica, Chile,Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia. Auroras also occur on other planets. Similar to the Earth’s aurora, they are also visible close to the planets’ magnetic poles. Auroras also occur poleward of the auroral zone as either diffuse patches or arcs,which can be sub-visual.